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Explaining people’s behavior. How Critical Social Psychology improved the approach of Mainstream Social Psychology

Essay 2013 11 Seiten

Psychologie - Sozialpsychologie


List of contents


1 Mainstream Social Psychology
1.1 The Experimental Approach
1.2 Example

2 Critical Social Psychology
2.1 Departure from Mainstream Social Psychology
2.2 Example


Reference list


The presented essay outlines the role of Critical Social Psychology within the context of So- cial Psychology in general and in comparison to Mainstream Social Psychology in particular. Therefore the following chapter contributes to the understanding of Mainstream Social Psy- chology, after the reader got an understanding of the origins and reasons for the field of Social Psychology in this introductory part. Based on the gained knowledge there, examples are pro- vided to deepen the knowledge of Mainstream Social Psychology. To draw a contrast, the following chapter concentrates on Critical Social Psychology, outlining differences on exam- ples as well, which is the main part of this essay. Concerning the differences, the third chapter will form the rounding end of this essay and finally underline the importance of Critical So- cial Psychology, as well as the presence of Mainstream Social Psychology.

Although named as ‘Psychology of society’ by Lindner in 1871 (Stainton, 2011), originating from sociological and anthropological streams as well as of course psychological movements, Social Psychology can be considered as formed by the beginning of the last century. It was William McDougall who stood for Social Psychology as an extra domain within the psycho- logical context, after Psychology has been more of an philosophic domain, willing to study ‘the springs of human action, the impulses and motives that sustain mental and bodily activity and regulate conduct’ (McDougall 1919). Together with the omnipresence of the Darwinian Evolutionary Theory it is not surprising that the conclusion followed that human behavior seemed to be influenced by primitive urges, therefore forming some kind of an evolutionary psychology. Later, he also included that behavior is formed by social and cultural forces, drawing the individual as a passive subject in the world, influenced by many factors.

William James’ approach is a bit different. Different in that way, that he assumes that the in- dividual is aware if itself and its own determined existence, which makes it then in contrast active in the world by making sense of it (Stainton, 2011). But, likely for the development of Social Psychology, this is not the only point, where opinions make their own path leading to a different way approaching Social Psychology. The so called individuo-centered approach rep- resents a different philosophic opinion about the relationship between a human being and the social environment surrounding it. It concentrates on the influence of behavior on social forc- es such as grouping and how groups are determined by that. It was later described as psycho- logical social psychology, outlining the stream where it originates from.

The opposite, the socio-centered approach or sociological social psychology, concentrates on how social groups and the membership of an individual in such can influence the behavior of it within the social environment. Both approaches represent western ideas of explaining Social Psychology. However, they can be further divided by separating them more generally into an American idea and a European idea.

The following chapter is going to show how Social Psychology was further divided throughout time and events, outlining characteristics of both main approaches that remained.

1 Mainstream Social Psychology

1.1 The Experimental Approach

As one can tell from the name, this approach represents the more scientific idea of Social Psychology. More scientific in that way, that a hypothesis that has been formed is going to be tested by experiments, mainly resulting in observing individuals performing within a social environment, changing dependent variables to observe different outcomes. The first psychological experiment though is considered to be Norman Triplett’s field study of competing cyclists in 1897. He was observing, if their behavior changed, whether there were other cyclists nearby or not. To do so, he gave kids of both gender fishing rods with the task, to wind them up as fast as possible, while they were sitting next to each oth- er. The control group consisted of children winding the rods up on their own. Due to tech- nical differences today the outcome would not be considered as valuable, still at his time the outcome was clear enough for Triplett to state that there is truly a ‘arousal of their competitive instincts and [an] idea of faster movement’ (Triplett 1898). So his approach is mainly formed by the idea, to identify Social Psychology with Science, proving hypothe- sis with experimental effort to underline the reliability of its conclusions through scientific evidence. To be accepted as serious became the main goal of the American movement of Social Psychology, where Floyd Allport based it on behaviorist principles (Allport 1924). Behaviorism assumes that general behavior is triggered by instincts, which can develop throughout an individual’s life and change. He assumed that this is also true for social be- havior and therefore formed a base for future assumptions.

Another influence in the 1930s finally led to Experimental Social Psychology as we know it today. European refugees - mostly Jews - knew a different form of psychology: Gestalt Psychology. This stream implies that the context influences people’s perception of objects. What they did, was that they separated from the behavioristic approach and its assumption of instincts and went to a focus on social influence.

So from there on, experiments focused on social groups and group dynamics, proposing a hypothesis and testing it thereby. Lewin is considered one of the first to do so and began research in 1947, forming the field theory based and principles of Gestalt Psychology. (Stainton, 2011).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
555 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Auckland – Department of Social Sciences
Social Psychology Essay Sozialpsychologie Englisch Floyd Booth Milgram Stainton Experimental



Titel: Explaining people’s behavior. How Critical Social Psychology improved the approach of Mainstream Social Psychology